James Bassler Artist Biography
Born in Santa Monica, California in 1933, James Bassler received his education at the University of California in Los Angeles, where he graduated with a M.A. in Art in 1968. Though he has taught in various institutions both in the United States and abroad since the early ‘60’s, for the last four decades he has found refuge and balance in weaving. It was Bassler’s travels in India and Indonesia during the Cold War era of the 1950s that introduced him to weaving as an integral part of daily life. Making one’s life “better and sweeter” vis-à-vis this ancient method, appealed to Bassler as a logical way to live. In the 1980s his work underwent a dramatic change after his exposure to both the Navajo wedgeweaving process and the art of John Cage, the two together prompting Bassler to take a more conceptual approach to his work.
Over the years Bassler has continued to incorporate techniques from various ancient cultures into his artistic process, an interest which he attributes to his enduring desire to find an alternative to “the overriding pace with which society has chosen to carry on daily life and the resulting disconnect of this culture with the forces that govern the earth’s movements.” Perhaps as a response to this “disconnect”, Bassler chooses to unite the past with the present by responding to contemporary issues in his artwork.
During his long career, Bassler has exhibited in the U.S. and abroad. His work is represented in major collections, including the American Craft Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the North Dakota Museum of Art, Oakland Museum of Art, Cotsen American Masters Textile Collection, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Long House Reserve. Bassler is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Design and Media Arts at UCLA, and currently lives with his wife in Palm Springs, California.
CONCERNS AND PERSPECTIVES
When viewing my work you will encounter personal references, some called out, others implied; CATCHER'S SHIELD, a tribute to my father; I WEAVE SOFTWEAR, a plaintiff goodbye to the disappearance of hand processes from education in our culture. There are political and environmental concerns expressed in VALDEZ, OLD GLORY and JARRILLA (an endangered specie). Reflecting on my interest in textile history and the role textile technology played in the survival of ancient cultures, there are numerous references to vessels, nets, protective skins, shields and mantles. But perhaps of even greater interest to me and referenced in my work, are the choices I've taken to live my life. The slow, deliberate pace and the care to detail are all expressed. It is not by chance that in 1995, I began to use the simplest of looms with the greatest of freedom. The concept to weave a Trader Joe bag was not to have a hand-woven Trader Joe bag. I wove it to draw attention to the important role that vessels have played in ancient history, as they do today. I wove it to draw attention to the honesty and beauty of a simple and readily available material, brown paper. I wove it to draw attention to the adaptability of hand weaving to create a three-dimensional form, but most of all, I wove it to celebrate the beauty of a hand-made object.
In summary, all of my work references a life that doesn't have to be loud or fast or annoying.
ARTIST'S STATEMENT - How my work has evolved.
Early in my life I was surrounded by people who valued the creative process. It was then that I learned the joy and the challenge of making things.
Fast forward to the Cold War era of the 1950's. I had the good fortune, while traveling, to witness craft production as an integral part of daily life. In India, I was astonished to observe the spinning of cotton as well as intricate dye patterning in Indonesia. Through their inventiveness these artists seemed to make life better and sweeter. It was the logic of the weaving processes that convinced me to link into this legacy. I thought then, that weaving would probably become my life work.
My first weavings were intricate in color and dyeing techniques. In 1980, my work changed dramatically due to two discoveries. One was a process, the other a conceptual enlightenment. While researching the Navajo I came across a series of distinctive blankets woven in an unusual diagonal construction. This wedgeweave process created distorted dimensional forms. Concurrently, I read about the work of John Cage. His explorations with chance inspired me to expand the conceptual aspect of my work.
In the 1990's, the Department of Design, UCLA, changed the curriculum to focus on electronic imaging. My reaction was to research the technology of pre-Columbian cultures, the loom. I realized then, that the sophistication of the tool was not of importance. It was up to me, driven by ideas and process, to make valid visual statements through my work.
1990 Dakota Museum of Art, Fargo, North Dakota.
1991 Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, California.
1991 Minneapolis Museum of Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
1992 American Craft Museum, New York City.
1995 The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
2002 Long House Reserve, East Hampton, New York.
2005 The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.
2008 Cotsen American Masters Textile Collection, Los Angeles, California.
2009 Craft in America Study Center, Los Angeles, California
1976 The Dyer’s Art, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York.
1978 erlebt bedacht gestaltst, Handwerkspflege, Bayern, Munich, Germany.
1983 Wedge Weaves, Elements Gallery, New York. Solo exhibition.
1986 Craft Today/Poetry of the Physical, Am. Craft Museum, New York.
1988 Frontiers in Fiber/The Americans, North Dakota Museum of Art – for tour in the Far East, the U.S.I.A. Arts American Program
1990 Heads, Threads, and Treads, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California; Four person exhibition.
1995 James Bassler, United States Embassy, Warsaw, Poland. Solo exhibition.
1996 I Ere Biennale du Lin EnHaute Normandie, Rouen and Paris, France. International invitational, traveling exhibition.
1999 Small Works. Long House Reserve, East Hampton, New York.
2004-06 Jane Sauer Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.One person exhibitions.
2010 Craft in America Center, Los Angeles, California
2011 Golden State of Craft: California 1960-1985. Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, CA
SELECTED PROJECTS, LECTURES AND CURATING ACTIVITES
1987 With Mexican government support, I initiated a weaving cottage industry in an isolated mountain community.Calpulalpan de la Sierra, Oaxaca, Mexico.
1987 Lecture: Continuing Traditions – Costumes of Mexico, in celebration of the exhibition, Mexican Art and Folk Art.
1987 Invited to create a site-specific paper sculpture for the exhibition Interlace, measuring 60’ X 20’ X 20’. American Craft Museum, New York.
1990 Lecture: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. I was invited to give a series of lectures on contemporary art issues, to non-art students.
1995 Juror: representing the U.S., 8th International Triennale of Tapestry, Lodz, Poland.
1999 Speaker and contributing artist, Third International Shibori Symposium, Santiago, Chile.
2007 Panelist: Craft in America: Expanding Traditions. Opening exhibition at Mingei International Museum, San Diego, California.
2009 Participating artist, Craft in America, PBS Television Series, Part 4.
1963 B.A. and General Secondary Credential, University of California, Los Angeles.
1968 M.A. in Art, University of California, Los Angeles, California.
1963-70 Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles, California.
1970-78 Mexican Arts and Culture program, Oaxaca, Mexico.(summers)
1974-75 California State University, Long Beach, California.
1980-82 Appalachian Center for Crafts, Smithville, Tennessee.
1982-00 University of California, Los Angeles.
2000-08 Professor Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles. Department of World Arts and Cultures, course entitled: Textiles of The World-The Americas.
AWARDS AND GRANTS
1977 National Endowment for the Arts, Fellowship Grant.
1984 National Endowment for the Arts, Fellowship Award.
1990 California Council for the Arts, Fellowship Award.
1992 International Triennale of Tapestry, Lodz, Poland. Silver medal.
1998 Fellow-College of Fellows, American Craft Council Award.
2002 Interview – Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.